Before John Abraham and Hrithik Roshan were Jim (Pathaan) and Kabir (War) respectively, they were Kabir in Sanjay Gadhvi’s Dhoom (2004) and Aaryan in the late filmmaker’s Dhoom 2 (2006). Before they posed bare-chested in white trunks by the swimming pool and seduced tough men with a getting-off-the-chopper shot, they rode bikes with a catch-me-if-you-can devilry and skated across crowded Mumbai highways like a breeze.
John may have walked into Sidharth Anand’s Pathaan with a silhouette walk set to the whistling of Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon to underline his backstory, but his OG entry sequence remains when he removes his biker helmet while riding a Hayabusa, revealing his long locks and childish smirk, before throwing the helmet at the wheels of the police jeep chasing him, overturning his threat in the process.
John’s romance with bikes has endured ever since, even off screen. In fact, the impact of the chase sequences in that film was so wide that it led to a boost in the sale of Hayabhusas across the country. The idea of a biker gang beating the speed of police jeeps, forcing the cops to take to bikes of their own, symbolised the jobless youth of that time, who could look muscular, ride fast bikes, but were left with serving as pizza delivery boys as their day jobs.
Similarly, Hrithik Roshan may have wooed the likes of Tiger Shroff and even Ashutosh Rana with his Top Gun-like aviator eyes, bulked up physique under the dark green T-shirt, and the razor-sharp hair getting a helicopter blow-dry. But who can forget the time when Hrithik tore open the queen’s mask he wore to steal the Kohinoor and her pink coat to reveal a black ganji on which he puts on a black leather jacket to walk casually on a moving train.
No boring backstory
Like Sidharth Anand, Ali Abbas Zafar, Maneesh Sharma, and Ayan Mukerji, the custodians of the YRF Spy Universe, Sanjay Gadhvi also started his career with a romantic comedy (Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai) before diving deep into an action franchise. But what made Dhoom excel more as an action franchise than the Pathaans, Tigers, and Wars of the world was that it focused solely on the cat-and-mouse game between the chor and the police, instead of saddling its villains with unnecessary backstories to justify their actions.
The reason villains like Kabir and Aaryan weighed heavy on the cops, Jay (Abhishek Bachchan) and Ali (Uday Chopra), was that one couldn’t preempt what’s coming from their end. They had a certain mystique to their modus operandi because there was very little we knew about them. Sure, Jim in Pathaan and Aatish (Emraan Hashmi) in Tiger 3 are also all about the mind games, but they were too obsessed with their heroes to wear their cool with ease.
The reason why the villains of Dhoom 1 and 2 indulged in robbery was because they were shaukeen. Instead of being flawed avengers of some kind, they were after money and even art. There was a reason why Hrithik’s Aaryan only stole original pieces of art and craft. You could trust his taste, given his gorgeous villa and salad and wine as preferred choice of dinner.
To draw an analogy to John’s villainous character in Abbas-Mustan’s Race 2 (2013), he initially attributes his actions to heartbreak from his girlfriend (Bipasha Basu). But later, when he gets the better of his nemesis after this emotional manipulation, he reveals he killed his girlfriend only because she stole his money. That’s what the difference between the baddies of Spy Universe and Dhoom is: emotion was neither the strength nor the Kryptonite of the Dhoom villains.
The only exception is Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Dhoom 3 (2013). One can’t say if it was Aamir Khan’s involvement, a new director’s treatment, or Aditya Chopra moving ahead with the times, but Aamir’s antagonist character was given such an extensive backstory that it did not feel like a follow-up to the first two Dhoom instalments at all. One only needed a romantic track with Sunehri (Aishwarya Rai) or even a scene (where John’s Kabir said he’s hurt by his teammate getting caught but the show must go on) to show the villains as emotionally available, humanised characters instead of copies of each other.
Sanjay Gadhvi placed the conflict of good vs evil not on the villains or the heroes, but on a third character who tiptoed on the line between both. Uday Chopra’s Ali and Esha Deol’s Sheena (Dilbara, lol) in Dhoom and Aishwarya’s Sunehri in Dhoom 2 were petty thieves-turned-police informers, offering enough playing ground for the audience to choose between the righteous, colourless cop and the flawed, iridescent villain.
Where’s the music?
Dhoom was one of the early breakthroughs of music composer Pritam. He designed such a unique sound for the franchise that the words “dhoom dhoom” still echo at instant recall and ‘dhoom macha le’ became synonymous with bike rides. The title track of the first film was the OG Besharam Rang as it had Esha Deol distract the cops while Kabir and his biker gang did the job.
Similarly, the pre-climactic songs of Salaame in Dhoom and Dil Laga Na in Dhoom 2 served as the high-stake curtain raiser tracks (from the family of Aaj Ki Raat from Don). Laced with suspense and foreboding, they were the perfect preludes to a roaring climax. In the YRF Spy Universe, Jhoome Jo Pathaan and Leke Prabhu Ka Naam are relegated to the post-credits instead of being woven into the narrative.
Sanjay Gadhvi must be credited for letting YRF think beyond its staple crop of old-world romances. The Dhoom franchise gave Aditya Chopra the eyes to look beyond Swiss Alps into Swiss banks. The world of Jay Dixit, Ali, and the uber cool villains set the stage for a far larger universe with more of the same. Dhoom walked so YRF Spy Universe could run, or even take a flight.
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First appeared on www.hindustantimes.com